By Commodore Johnson Odakkal (Retd) PhD
MHS Website : www.mhsindia.org
An initiative that was given a “princely” sum of INR 1000/- by the then Commander-in-Chief of Western Naval Command, the amazing Vice Admiral RK Gandhi, with no hope of surviving a year, has crossed 43 years of relentless drive to showcase Indian Maritime Heritage. The Maharashtra Gaurav Puraskar Winner and a Great Maritime Icon, Late Vice Admiral Manohar Prahlad Awati was the cause and concept of Maritime History Society. He found unmatched support in another founder trustee, Late Admiral Jayant G Nadkarni.
The academic rigour of MHS that is today at global scale of recognition was built frame by frame by Late Professor B Arunachalam with strong input and lead in 16 of the 22 outstanding books published by the society. Passionate maritime enthusiasts joined to support the cause. Prominent among them was Wing Commander (Dr) MS Naravane (father of present Army Chief) who captured his scooter ride across Konkan forts into two valuable tomes for MHS. A galaxy of academics and mariners have and continue to build this fine institution of prominence in maritime India.
The curators at MHS were the silent hands at the oars to propel MHS forward with Cdr Mohan Narayan (Retd) serving through most of the exhibitions, museum initiatives and publications from 1999 to 2015! A long sewa indeed.
MHS Academic Workshops, Heritage Walks
A tack to a new vision unfolded in the past six years with a drive towards systems, inhouse research scholarship, digital presence and reaching to students and common public. The MHS website, the social media handles and videos achieve a wave towards curating consciousness to enhanced maritime influence. The young interns and researchers have presented papers at international conferences, conducted workshops and spoken at many forums with confidence. Recently three young scholars completed two years of diligent research and graduated as MHS Junior Research Fellows!
Anchored in a city that never sleeps, MHS even enabled a movie titled “Maritime Mumbai – An Odyssey” showcasing that the city evolved and lives all because of the seafaring canvas. At the Jashne-Dastane-Mumbai festival in late 2020 MHS pictorially presented this story. In the Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav Commemorative Digital Symposium in August 2021 a short film scripted by MHS was streamed on 1946 Naval Uprising! Like the vastness of the ocean, the scope of MHS seminars, conversations and talks have ranged from Ancient & Modern Ports, Sea Power, Maritime Battles, Cartography, Connectivities across the Indian OCean to name a few!
The pandemic saw the scope widen to include numerous new elements including cultural canvas, maritime archaeology, nautical literature and the maritime world through and post pandemic.
As it is written in the book Timeless Wake by this author, “India has lived in the glory as well as in the shadow of a rich historical legacy…” Maybe it is time to take a resurgent wave of opportunity and support Maritime History Society in its objectives of promoting sea mindedness. In closing a strong appeal to build maritime heritage is in order. Contrary to narrative spread by a few, Mumbai had a prominent Maritime Museum inaugurated on 05 April 1979 at Middle Ground in Mumbai Harbour. Through different avatars the collection is housed at Noorbhoy Building in Fort in Mumbai as a Naval Heritage Gallery.
Through different avatars the collection i housed at Noorbhoy building in fort in Mumbai as a Naval Heritage Gallery. With assistance of individual museologists, interns and consultants the heritage teams is battling to preserve precious artefacts in the unique collection. Organisations such a CSMVS have periodically come to assist in this venture. It needs both young and experienced museologists, a lot of funds and great public support to regain Mumbai Maritime prominence in tangible heritage.
Commodore Johnson Odakkal (Retd), PhD, is a maritime scholar and mentor and he was Director Maritime History Society from May 2015 to Aug 2021. He is a naval veteran with 34 years of distinguished service and author of the book “Timeless Wake : The Legacy of Royal Indian Navy during World War II”.
This is an English Translation of the Article “Varsa Jagvi Samudri Sajagata” that first appeared in Marathi in Maharashtra Times, October 16, 2021.